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Pete Townshend: The Who's Final Days

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Your wife must be a remarkable woman, bearing up under all this public trauma.
Well, she doesn't like me to talk too much about us, but we met at art school in 1963, started going out together in 1965, when the group was established, got married in 1968, had our first child in 1969 – and really, apart from a few ups and downs, we never suffered any major problems until the last couple of years. And we both feel that one of the problems was that I did over commit when I took on a solo career. It was a great strain. And living in the same house and everything, we literally became estranged – we were like strangers. And it was only when I actually became so ill that I couldn't work that we had the time to sit down and talk. And then we stopped being strangers and we became friends and lovers again, and life is back to the way it was. Our marriage was made in heaven, there's no question about it. But you've got to work at marriage, and it's a different kind of work from what you do normally, and it's got a different end product. I'm sure this stuff is familiar as hell to everybody else, but it's all new to me.

You spent some time at Steve Strange's Club for Heroes, which was a mecca for London's New Romantics. What did you make of that scene?
I loved it. The only thing was, I nearly died there one night. The first night I went, I was with a couple of friends, and I ended up goin' blue – my heart practically stopped. I thought at the time that I'd probably gotten so drunk I didn't know what I was taking, and that I took some terrible drug. But I think I actually drank so much brandy I gave myself alcohol poisoning. I just went black. And that was my hero's entrance to a Club for Heroes: a seven-foot bouncer carried me out like a sack of potatoes.

But I did get to know Steve Strange quite well as a result of that, 'cause I went back later to apologize. And he turned out to be an absolute sweetheart. Very, very egoless, in a real sense. Superficially, totally preoccupied with image and everything, but underneath, not like that at all. And just stupidly vain like – for Christ's sake – every woman on the planet, every Western woman, is stupidly vain. We let them get away with it, you know: "Listen, the bomb's gonna drop in five minutes, but I can't go into the fallout shelter until I've done my makeup." That's okay from a woman, but for some reason, if Steve Strange says it, he's criticized.

I think people sometimes see you as one of the last of the great loons. With Keith Moon gone, and Kit Lambert, your former manager, having died last year, have you felt this image bearing down on you – a sort of compulsion to go out raving all night?
No, I actually feel torn in a number of directions. The thing I feel most conscious of is the responsibility to stay alive. Take Mick Jagger, for example. Mick is just bein' great at the moment. I think it's incredible to see him facin' up to who he is: workin', stayin' fit, living the kind of life he wants to live and still being involved in rock & roll. And never compromising on one single issue. And stayin' alive.

I don't think people really care if you loon or not, but they wanna see that you're enjoyin' life. It's no good staying alive if you're gonna be suicidal. But I have been taught the intricate techniques of looning, and most of them I didn't get from Kit or Keith; I got them from my mother. Weaned by a loony!

Your mother, a musician herself, must know about the looning life.
She was actually the person who made me think about starting to treat myself as an alcoholic. I had gotten to the point where I was taking a drink in the morning just to feel normal. That lasted for about a month, and I was very worried about that. Then, a guy in our road crew, who's a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, showed me a book written by an amazing guy named Max Glatt, who ran an enormous clinic here and did a lot of work with alcoholics. And I read immediately that I was alcoholic. There was absolutely no question about it. And when I was in Paris working with Elton John, I got to the point where that glass of brandy in the morning was not makin' me feel normal anymore, it was makin' me feel ill, So there was no way I could get my fix. And in a brief period of panic, I tried just about everything else in the world to try to feel normal again. And none of them worked. Nothing.

But then my mother suddenly decided to go into a clinic to stop drinking. She decided she'd had enough and she stopped. And I knew, this time, that she'd stopped for life. They said it probably would be a good idea if she didn't go home straight away, so she came to live with me. And two things happened: first, I was really inspired by her, and I wanted to show solidarity by stopping myself, once and for all. But also, a lot of my excuses were taken away. There's absolutely no question of it being genetic, anyway; I couldn't really say, "Oh, it's because everybody in my family is a drunk, that's why I'm a drunk."

One of my main excuses for getting drunk all the time was that I really do feel shy and uncomfortable in large gatherings and on social occasions, and I'd need it to relax. But the problem was that that first drink never really relaxed me. Neither did that second drink, and neither did that third drink. Tranquilizers weren't doin' it. Nothing was really doin' it. And then I suddenly realized: why do you have to be relaxed? What's so great about being relaxed? You know – why not feel tense, and just get used to it? Some people have to live with much worse situations than just feeling tense. So this time, I just know I'm not gonna drink again.

You spent quite a bit of time hanging out with the aristocracy, didn't you? Are they good company?
People are very quick to say, "Oh, that crowd of shits." I don't think I met one shit, not one single real shit – and yet in my business, I could introduce you to a thousand. I was comfortable at the Embassy Club because those people all knew exactly what I was going through. They were all very sympathetic. They fucking kept me alive.

It was a meander, a groping. But you know the answer to your problems. It's an inability to commit to things that you sometimes find you're embarrassed to commit to. Like when I think of myself as a rock & roll star, perhaps I feel a bit embarrassed about committing to take my kid to school every day. Because I don't want to be recognized, or I don't want my kid to be ostracized for coming to school in a big car. But I'm sorry – the daughter is the daughter of the father. And the father has a big car. And she's gotta live with it, and I've gotta live with it, and so do all her friends. That's unpleasant to have to deal with sometimes.

I suppose the irony of mingling with titled people – who would sympathize with this sort of problem – is that in a way you've transcended the British class system. Maybe it's changing . . .
I don't think Britain is ever gonna change. I'm afraid it's part of our tradition, and always will be. There's a lot of things that could change, and there's a lot of things that need to change, but I don't think that the aristocracy needs to change. You know – why? What harm are they doing? They're a minority in this country. They've not got the power they used to have. They might have a few misappropriated possessions, but nothing I'd want. My house in the country is too bloody big anyway, and it's about a quarter of the size of most of these mansions.

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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